Were the Crusades Just Wars?


crusades09_0This post is the second in a series about the most prevalent modern myths about the Crusades and how to refute them.

Some people find distasteful the idea that the pope exhorted and spiritually incentivized Catholic warriors to fight in the Crusades. They say the Crusades highlight the hypocrisy of Christians, who, on the one hand, profess to follow Jesus, who willingly accepted his Passion and death, and on the other, participated in and supported an armed expedition to the Holy Land. This criticism gained popular favor through the writings of the 20th-century historian Steven Runciman.

Perhaps more than any other scholar, Runciman shaped popular understanding of the Crusades, through his three volume History of the Crusades, published from 1951-54. His well-written and engaging style was highly readable, but erroneously presented the Crusaders as simple barbarians bent on the destruction of a peaceful and sophisticated Islamic culture. His view that the Crusades were “great barbarian invasions” and a “long act of intolerance… which is a sin against the Holy Ghost” solidified the myth that the Crusades were unjust wars of Christian aggression—a myth many Catholics swallow to this day.

Were the Crusades unjust? To answer that question, first we must understand that the Church has never taught that all violence is evil or sinful. Divine Revelation affords the use of violence in certain cases and for just reasons. The Old Testament is replete with examples of legitimate warfare sanctioned by God undertaken by the Jewish people.[1] These examples clearly illustrate that God commanded and allowed the use of violence for a holy purpose.

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), in his work City of God, consolidated Jewish and Greco-Roman traditions into a Christian understanding of legitimate warfare, or “just-war doctrine.” Augustine taught that violence could be undertaken for legitimate reasons, including past or present aggression, proclamation by a legitimate authority, and restoration of order and property. A review of the historical record proves the Crusades met these criteria.

The Crusades were born from the violent aggression of Islam, which had conquered ancient Christian territory in the Holy Land and North Africa and established a large foothold in Europe within a century of Muhammad’s death in the early seventh century. To read the rest of the post—>Catholic Answers

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2 Responses

  1. I’m not a historian, but it occurs to me we make the mistake of judging the crusades as one lump event. There were multiple crusades and it is possible to assess them multifacedly. Some crusades may have been just and some not. Some elements of just crusades may have drfted into shameful and sinful acts, but some not. We’re talking about several hundred years of history here and possibly millions of people, who like anyone else can sink to sin or rise to heroism.

    But bottom line: I do agree that they were a reaction to several hundred years of Islamic conquest and horrific brutality.

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